COVID-19: First Nations leaders urge Coastal GasLink pipeline to ‘stay home’

B.C. First Nations leaders are urging the province to halt construction on the Coastal GasLink Pipeline, in light of COVID-19 concerns for local communities. JASON PAYNE / PNG

B.C. First Nations leaders are urging the province to halt construction on the Coastal GasLink pipeline in light of COVID-19 concerns for local communities.On Monday, the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs issued an open letter urging federal and provincial governments to hit pause on the construction of the northern B.C. pipeline during the ongoing health crisis.

“We urge you to act swiftly to protect the public’s health from the heightened risks of COVID-19 transmission posed by ongoing construction of the Coastal GasLink pipeline project,” reads the letter addressed to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, federal Health Minister Patty Hajdu, Premier John Horgan and B.C. Health Minister Adrian Dix.

“Most vulnerable to the spread will be frontline health-care workers, project workers, and local Indigenous and non-Indigenous communities forced to shoulder the consequences for any disregard for health and safety.”

The letter notes that while the Northern Health Authority currently has the fewest confirmed cases of the novel coronavirus in B.C., there are concerns that the continued construction is accompanied by the movement of people which the leaders believe is contrary to what health officials have recommended.“B.C. and Canadian health officials have urged the public to stay home. The expansion of economic enterprises cannot be considered essential when it directly endangers the health and wellbeing of every one of us,” the letter reads.

“The threat is too great to northern communities, Indigenous and non-Indigenous, whose access to health care and necessary resources for containing COVID-19 are already limited.

“We urge you to tell Coastal GasLink to stay home.”The letter is signed by the UBCIC executive, including president Grand Chief Stewart Phillip, vice-president Chief Don Tom, and secretary-treasurer Kukpi7 Judy Wilson.

In a prepared statement, Coastal GasLink spokesperson Suzanne Wilton said the company had suspended travel and ordered all non-essential work to be done from home.

“No new people are being introduced into workforce sites and most crews are local with only critical work is being completed, such as environmental monitoring,” Wilton wrote.

“We recognize the need for protective measures and are working closely with health officials as well as our employees and contractors and following all directives. Our people live and work in the communities where we operate and we take their safety, along with that of the community very seriously.”

The First Nation’s letter comes just days after Dr. David Bowering, former chief medical officer for Northern Health issued his own open letter, calling on B.C.’s provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry to issue a shutdown order to industrial work camps, such as those working on the Coastal GasLink pipeline.“The camps are and will be COVID-19 incubators, placing the workers, the host communities, and the home communities of the workers at unacceptable risk,” Bowering wrote.

The $6.6-billion Coastal GasLink pipeline is set to extend from Dawson Creek to Kitimat, and has the support of 20 elected band councils along the route. Each of the councils has signed benefit agreements with the company ensuring proceeds that would help each band become less reliant on federal funding.

Wet’suwet’en hereditary house chiefs, however, say the pipeline cannot proceed without their consent, as they assert title over a broader 22,000 square kilometres of traditional territory that is crossed by the pipeline’s route, whereas the elected band councils control smaller reserve lands.The pipeline project was the subject of a number of blockades and occupations earlier this year, a result of Wet’suwet’en supporters standing against the pipeline’s continued construction.



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